Jack Hanna’s animals make KSU home

Melissa Dilley

Program showcases variety of animals, fills Kiva to full capacity

Vans filled with about a dozen animal crates were unloaded into the Kiva Thursday afternoon – but inside were no ordinary animals.

Brian Greene and Tommy Dodge, promotional assistants for Jack Hanna and the Columbus Zoo, showed exotic animals to an amazed audience of over 300 people.

The event, which cost Kent Student Center Programming $700 to put on, allowed students and community members to get an up-close look at animals not typically shown at zoos.

Greene said he and Dodge are always with the animals, and they are never put in the zoo.

“When we aren’t on the road, the animals don’t go back to the zoo – they come home with us,” Greene said. “Animals, just like people, have their favorite people to be around and work with and we want to keep that connection.”

Dodge, who has been working with Jack Hanna for five years, received a mixture of gasps and cheers when he laid a nine-foot-long albino Burmese python named Mango on the table in front of the crowd.

Greene, who has a fear of snakes, explained why some animals aren’t brought around the room.

“You’re not born with a fear of snakes, but for whatever reason some of us are, so we won’t be bringing Mango around,” Greene said. “We will bring some animals around, but others may be scared or can’t be trusted around large crowds.”

A famous animal, Punky, a black-footed penguin, was also in the house and took the table after the snake was escorted off stage. This penguin walked the red carpet with Robin Williams at the premiere of the movie “Happy Feet.”

Camera flashes filled the room as each animal was brought out, but most of all when Dodge made his way through the aisles carrying a baby Wallaby in a pouch wrapped around his chest.

The audience had a chance to touch and take pictures with a fennec fox, a three-banded armadillo and an American alligator at the end of the show.

The response from the audience has prompted Ashley Dill, the Student Center programmer who put together the event, to begin planning for next year already.

“We had to start turning people away before the show started at 5 p.m.,” Dill said. “We are already thinking about booking the show in the ballroom next year because so many people wanted to be here and couldn’t.”

Junior biology majors Katherine Pearson and Holly Calvelli made sure to get a seat early because they said while growing up, “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures” was their favorite show.

“We had to come because we both want to do marine biology and we love animals,” Calvelli said.

“I think this is also an important event because it gives people who didn’t grow up with the show like we did (a chance) to gain an appreciation for and encounter wild animals.”

Students and community members who made it through the doors cheered, laughed and awed while the animals were being presented, but one animal received silent attention: the snow leopard. Zack, the leopard, is five months old and is an endangered species.

Greene said only a handful of people have seen the animal in its habitat and there are not many zoos that have a snow leopard.

Tom Farmer, a Student Center maintenance repair worker, and his wife Kelly, a marketing assistant for Health Services, brought their children, Tommy, 5, and Madyson, 3, to the event to see the animals. They said they were worried the educational aspect would be too complex for the toddlers.

“We are members of the zoological society and the kids love animals, so when I saw the sign in the Student Center, we definitely wanted to come,” Tom Farmer said.

“We thought maybe the information about the animals would be over their heads but it was a great learning experience because it was really informal.”

Greene said the goal of the presentation was to educate and entertain simultaneously.

“People wouldn’t normally get to see these animals at the zoo, much less up close,” Greene said. “But in addition to showing these animals, we want people to think about conservation and be educated about them, and the easiest way is by telling of our adventures instead of lecturing, so that people walk away not even realizing how much they have learned.”

Contact on-campus entertainment reporter Melissa Dilley at [email protected].